Here’s the scene: It’s April 6, 2017. Valencia vs. Celta Vigo, at the Mestalla.
We’re tied 2—2 with five minutes to go and Enzo Pérez bursts past three players in midfield and sends a through-ball to the top of the 18-yard box area just ahead of me.
I see the ball, I see the goalkeeper rushing toward me and I think, Just try me.
Just try me.
I chip the ball over the goalkeeper with my right foot and score my first goal in Mestalla Stadium. Then I hear the crowd chanting: “CAR-los! CAR-los! CAR-los!”
It’s so loud, man. For real. Just so loud.
And I think to myself, This … this is for my grandparents.
That goal had been 15 years in the making. It all started on a pitch my grandparents sketched out for me with chalk on the patio in front of their house. I’d kick a ball there after school as much as I could — sometimes my grandma would be the goalkeeper, sometimes my grandpa. Sometimes their neighbors would come out and tell me to stop playing because I was being too loud and ruining their siestas. But I didn’t care. Football for me was about spending quality time with my grandparents.
When I was about four or five, people started saying I was good and should join an academy. But I didn’t want to play with anyone other than my grandparents. Seriously.
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
In fact it took my grandfather to get me to take football seriously. There was a club in Valencia close to my house called Bonrepós, and one of the coaches asked me to join and I said no. My grandfather begged and begged and begged me to join. He said, “Carlos what do I have to do to make you say yes?” And I told him I wanted a Game Boy.
My grandfather said, “I’ll buy it if you tell him yes!”
I got my Game Boy. And my grandfather got his wish.
And I loved that Game Boy. I really did. Because in a way, it’s what led to me to Valencia.
I’ve been through all the different youth and reserve teams at every level, and I cannot describe how much Valencia means to me. All of my heroes played here, including David Silva and Juan Mata. Once, David Villa visited the academy teams while I was there and we got a photo together. It was the best thing ever. What a man, what a legend.
Valencia is my home, my blood. This season I was getting ready to play Juventus in the Champions League and I started shaking. I went to my good friend Toni Lato and said, “Dude, I have goose bumps. I’m here on the bench and I have goose bumps.”
To hear the Champions League music and hear football fans chant your name as you play for your hometown?
It’s the greatest feeling. I love football so much, and I owe it all to my grandparents.
And a Game Boy.